DUBAI: The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been ranked the least peaceful in the world for the sixth consecutive year in a study conducted by an Australian think tank, Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP).
Five of the 10 least peaceful countries in the world — Sudan, Libya, Syrian, Iraq, Yemen — are located in MENA, according to the 2020 edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI).
Released recently by the IEP, the study tracks and ranks the status of peace in 163 independent states and territories across the world, noting where conflict is rising and falling, and which factors are influencing change.
Syria, the report says, remains the least peaceful country in MENA and the second least peaceful country overall, while Iraq is the second least peaceful country in the region and the third least peaceful overall.
Saudi Arabia improved by three ranks, from 128 to 125, and Bahrain recorded the greatest improvement in the region and the third largest improvement of any nation overall, with a 4.8 percent jump in its overall score.
Only three countries from the region — the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar — ranked in the top 50 peaceful countries in the world.
Globally, Europe remains the most peaceful region, with Iceland taking the top spot as the most peaceful country in the world. However, the report also mentioned that almost half of the countries in Europe have deteriorated in peacefulness since 2008, the year the GPI was launched.
The peace index measures more than just the presence or absence of war. It captures the absence of violence or the fear of violence across three domains: Safety and Security; Ongoing Conflict; and Militarization.
While both the Militarization and Ongoing Conflict markers improved on average in MENA, the report noted a deterioration in Safety and Security, due to a stronger likelihood of violent demonstrations and increase in political instability.
For instance, violent demonstrations continue to be a concern in Iraq, which has the maximum possible score on this indicator.
“Since protests erupted across the country in October 2019, Iraq has had more than 700 fatalities and thousands of severe injuries as a result of clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces,” the report noted.
Iran had the largest fall in peacefulness in the region, its score deteriorating across all three GPI domains, with the largest occurring in Safety and Security.
While the deterioration in global peacefulness has not been limited to any one region, indicator or country, conflict in the Middle East has been the key driver of diminishing peace in the world, according to the report.
“Of the 23 indicators in the MENA region, 19 are under the average,” said Serge Stroobants, director of operations for Europe and MENA at the IEP. “Four of the main conflicts of the past years are located in the region — Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”
According to Dr. Theodore Karasik, from Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., the numbers are not surprising given the perceptions and realities in the region.
2.5% decline in average global peacefulness since 2008
“The issue here, within the GPI scope, is the safety and security of people in the region,” he told Arab News.
“Given the tensions between countries on multiple planes — political, religious, social — when combined with various forms of conflict from kinetic to cyber, it creates an impact on the peoples in question.”
However, the MENA region, despite ongoing armed conflict and instability, did record improvements in some areas, including the number of deaths from internal conflict, the intensity of internal conflicts, and both the import and export of weapons.
Saudi Arabia has jumped five spots in the index since 2008, with Internal Safety and Security as the only domain of indicators to decrease in the past year.
“This is mostly linked to the number of refugees, of internally displaced people (IDPs) on the territory, and some levels of political terror,” said Stroobants.
“The only other indicator that decreased last year was the number of External and Internal Conflicts Fought, so we see the emergence of internal conflict and this is linked with some kind of movement on the political terror scale that created IDPs on Saudi Arabian soil.”
Syria, despite its low ranking in the GPI, recorded a slight improvement in peacefulness, with the civil war and turmoil continuing to lessen in intensity.
“Following the ceasefire deal of March 2020, around 35,000 displaced civilians have returned to their homes in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib,” the report says.
“However, millions of Syrians are still either displaced internally or are refugees.”
The report attributed the overall decline in global peace — the average level of global peacefulness that has deteriorated by 2.5 per cent since 2008 — to a range of factors, including increased terrorist activity, intensification of conflicts in the Middle East, rising regional tensions in Eastern Europe and Northeast Asia, increasing numbers of refugees and heightened political tensions in Europe and the US.
This year’s edition of the GPI finds that the world has become less peaceful for the ninth time in the last 12 years.
The crisis provoked by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is also playing a significant role in causing global instability according to the report, which notes its potential to undo years of socio-economic development, exacerbate humanitarian crises and aggravate unrest and conflict. Its impact is already being seen in worsening US-China relations and civil unrest across the world, says the report.
In Karasik’s view, the pandemic is the most critical driver of instability owing to its effect on interaction, commerce and, most importantly, politics.
“The pandemic, when combined with other regional grievances, becomes a struggle between methods and approaches,” he told Arab News.
“In the Middle East, the modelling is roughly the same in terms of lockdown, testing and treatment. The GPI findings may show quite a different picture next year as the region continues to contend with the virus and its lasting impact.”
This complex, multi-dimensional threat to stability requires countries to seek innovative solutions for long-term peace, the report said.
“At the institute, we developed a concept called the Positive Peace Index (PPI), which looks at the attitudes, institutions and processes that a country needs to put in place in order to create, maintain and sustain peace,” said Stroobants.
He listed the eight principles of the PPI: a well-functioning government, sound business environment, acceptance of rights of others, good relations with neighbors, high levels of human capital, equitable distribution of resources, free flow of information and low levels of corruption.
When all eight principles are followed by a country, said Stroobants, it leads to a transformation. The GPI report emphasizes that the IEP has empirically derived the PPI through the analysis of almost 25,000 economic and social progress indicators to determine which ones have statistically significant relationships with peace as measured by the GPI.
“We also see the economic, social, governance and ecological benefits that come along and, by doing so, we create more resilient societies, which will be able to better cope with civil unrest, natural disasters, the effects of climate change, and COVID-19,” said Stroobants.
“Therefore, our advice is: Invest in positive peace. It’s an innovative form of development.”